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Summary and Review: Wellness by Nathan Hill

wellness book review

Editorial note: I received a copy of Wellness by Nathan Hill in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Nathan Hill’s latest novel, Wellness, is a sprawling narrative that delves into the complexities of modern relationships, the pursuit of happiness, and the stories we tell ourselves to navigate the challenges of life.

And it’s also Oprah’s book club pick for October 2023.

In this novel, spanning over 600 pages, we follow Jack and Elizabeth, a married couple facing the challenges of middle age, parenting, and the complexities of modern life.

Wellness by Nathan Hill

Summary | Ending Explained | Book Club Questions

Characters and story

In the early 90s, Jack and Elizabeth believed in love at first sight. Jack, a struggling art student, escaped rural middle America for Chicago’s vibrant art scene, gaining recognition online. Elizabeth, craving adventure away from her wealthy upbringing, found solace in Jack’s edgy, artistic spirit. They married with dreams of everlasting happiness.

Fast forward twenty years, their reality starkly contrasts their dreams. The once-blissful couple is now entrenched in the monotony of married life. Jack, unable to recapture his artistic brilliance, settles for mundane work as an adjunct professor.

Elizabeth, successful in her career, navigates corporate perceptions. Their relationship loses its luster amid the challenges of parenting and saving for their dream home. Separate bedrooms, once unthinkable, now seem a practical solution to sustain their evolving relationship.

To salvage what they have, Jack and Elizabeth embark on separate journeys of self-discovery, risking the most precious thing they share: their love for each other.

The couple’s attempts to reconnect lead them on separate quests for self-discovery, unearthing long-buried traumas and unfulfilled desires.

The stories we tell ourselves

One of the novel’s strengths lies in Hill’s astute observations of contemporary life. He dissects the internet-driven culture, the prevalence of self-help movements, and the emptiness that often accompanies our quest for fulfillment.

Through Jack and Elizabeth’s experiences, Hill confronts the illusions of modernity, highlighting the disconnection between our online personas and our real selves.

The narrative’s emotional depth is complemented by Hill’s sharp wit and humor, offering moments of levity amidst the profound introspection. His keen understanding of human psychology is evident, as he explores themes of belief, faith, and the power of storytelling.

The novel’s exploration of placebo effects and the stories we construct to make sense of our lives adds a layer of intellectual intrigue to the narrative.

Hill’s style of writing

In my experience, reading this novel was a journey of self-reflection, urging me to ponder my own life choices and influences. However, I found the flow of the narrative to be challenging. The book, stretching over 500 pages, sometimes felt disjointed, with certain sections appearing unnecessary.

While the book aimed to dissect modern issues, it often relied on lengthy discussions and pop psychology without delving deeply into the characters’ emotions.

Hill’s storytelling, though intricate, lacked the psychological depth I typically enjoy in classic novels. Instead, it followed a more structured plot that neatly tied up all loose ends.

Despite this, I appreciated Hill’s ability to capture the essence of Midwestern life and portray the characters’ yearning for genuine connections.

For me, the novel became a mix of impressive storytelling and frustrating narrative choices, leaving me with conflicting feelings about the overall reading experience.

Final thoughts

While Wellness is undeniably ambitious, my thoughts are some readers may find its extensive explorations occasionally meandering.

The novel’s detailed forays into various topics, from art to psychology, can feel overwhelming and while the story has its lessons, it demands patience and focus, making it better suited for readers who enjoy a more intricate and layered narrative.

However, for those willing to invest the time, the payoff is a thought-provoking and deeply rewarding reading experience.